Avainsana-arkisto: Finland

I was brainwashed into raging Laestadian beliefs


– Never give up to think critically about every ideology. Know that you are worth it.- Anonymous.

Mind_control1PA Finnish young woman wrote touching description about her current life situation considering how to deal with the dilemma she is facing with the Laestadian beliefs which her family and friends are believing.

I’m a 17-year-old female high school student in Finland. When it comes to religion, I’d say that out of all the young finnish people most are atheists (myself included).

However, I was born to a very strict and raging religion called … Read more – Lue koko artikkeli…

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Kategoria(t): ateismi, atheism, ban of birth control, ban of television, bans, Conservative Laestadianism, eroaminen uskosta, forbidden things, get rid of, häpeä, heaven, helvetti, iankaikkinen elämä, identiteetti, identity, in English, irrottautuminen yhteisöstä, johtajat, johtokunta, kadotus, kasvatus, kiellot, kontrollointi, laestadianism, lapsuus, leimaaminen, manipulointi, meikkaaminen, mielenterveys, naispappeus, normit, norms, nuoret, painostaminen, pelko, pelot, perhe, puhujat, secession, sin, SRK:n johtokunta, sukupuolijärjestelmä, synnit, syntilista, tasa-arvo, televisio, televisiokielto, tiede, tieto, ulossulkeminen, uskon jättäminen, vallankäyttö, yksinäisyys, ystävyys

No Apologising for Past Violence of SRK-Laestadians’ ”Healing Meetings”


Dr. Mikko Ketola, a researcher and university lecturer at the University of Helsinki, Department of Church History, has in his recent essay described the violence of healing meetings in the Conservative Laestadian revival movement (SRK-Laestadianism). He has analysed  the question of public apologising in the  fundamentalistic community, by comparing  SRK and other cases. (Apologising for Past Errors: Two Finnish Religious Revival Movements and Their Different Strategies, August 2010.) Dr. Ketola  is recently elected the Secretary of the association of the researchers of Christian church history CIHEC (Commission Internationale d’Histoire et d’Etudes du Christianisme) in 2010-2015.

The review offers valuable information and views on the near history of the Conservative Laestadian revival movement in Finland and worldwide.

Mikko Ketola says as his conclusions that it is not probable that a public apology will be made by the SRK anytime soon, although recent sexual abuse charges against several SRK-Laestadian lay preachers have further darkened the public image of the movement and put more pressure on the SRK leadership to do something.

Regardless, the consequences of the apology will certainly be considered carefully by the SRK management. The thorough calculation can give advise whether such an apologising would offer advantages e.g. to support the position of SRK in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. Anyway, in the possible collective apologising would arose questions inside related with the doctrine of unerring congregation. On the other side, there is increasing effort in the community generally to own-initiative confessions of the past errors, to compensate for the victims and also to commit transparency and the fair treatment of people in all situations. However, the  implications of the collective apologising are always unexpected and uncontrollable.

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The aim of the review

”The paper concentrates in recent discussion about the necessity of the apologies of two Finnish religious revival movements: SRK-Laestadianism and the Finnish Lutheran Mission (Suomen evankelisluterilainen kansanlähetys).  The movement’s secretary-general of the Finnish Lutheran Mission issued an apology in 1999 for all the mental and spiritual anguish the movement has caused for its adherents during its history in Finland.

Public ecclesiastical apologies have become quite usual during the last 15 years. In July 2010, the Lutheran World Federation, at a joint service of repentance with Mennonit es, asked for forgiveness for the 16th-century persecution of Anabaptists, the religious reformers whose modern-day descendants include Mennonites.

The aim is not to describe and analyse the actual events being apologized for but to analyse the apology and its motivations (in the case of the FLM) and the lack of apology and the reasons for that (in the case of Laestadianism).

The SRK-Laestadianism

One of the Finnish Lutheran Church’s significant features is the role of revival movements within the church. During the 19th century four principal revival movements emerged, all inspired by German pietism but each with its own distinctive characteristics and doctrinal emphasis. They all blossomed within the Church rather than outside of it and went on to have a profound impact on both religious life and society in Finland.

The largest of these is Laestadianism which came to be in the middle of the 19th century in the northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland. Today, it has around 100.000 adherents in Finland, and its mass meetings bring as many as 70.000 people together each summer.

During its history Laestadianism has split several times. At the beginning of the 20th century, the movement broke into three branches, Conservative Laestadianism remaining the largest of them. Even after this major schism, other groups have also departed or been forced to depart, the last of them at the beginning of the 1960s. At the core of these schisms there has always been the congregational doctrine. Who can be considered a true believer and member of the Kingdom of God?

The branch of Laestadianism I’m talking about is in English called Conservative Laestadianism but in Finland it is known as SRK-Laestadianism.

SRK stands for the Central Committee of Conservative Laestadian Congregations, established in 1906. Incidentally, in the original Finnish name of the committee the word ’conservative’ does not appear or isn’t even implied. Actually, it is not needed; in Finland everyone knows that the Laestadians are religious conservatives.

A literal translation of the SRK would be The Central Association of the Associations of Peace in Finland [Suomen rauhanyhdistysten keskusyhdistys ry.]. Namely, the local congregations are called Associations of Peace. [Or the Assembly of Peace, as well.] For some reason, this term does not appear in the official English name at all.

The Central Committee is based in Oulu, a regional metropol in northern Finland. There are Associations of Peace everywhere in Finland. The Helsinki Assembly of Peace is one of the largest.

No salvation outside the SRK – the exclusive congregational doctrine

The central, defining feature of SRK-Laestadianism has always been its exclusive congregational doctrine. The SRK-Laestadians see themselves as the Kingdom of God upon earth. The Kingdom of God is unanimous in faith, doctrine and love.

The central teaching of Conservative Laestadianism is the forgiveness of sins. One becomes a believer by confessing one’s sins to another Laestadian. The receiver of the confession proclaims that ’You can believe all sins forgiven in Jesus’ name and precious blood.’

An individual believer can err but the congregation is never wrong.

The members call themselves either Laestadians, ’believers,’ or ’Christians’. Thus, it can be confusing for an outsider to listen to a Laestadian using a very ecumenical and inclusive-sounding term ’Christians’ when in fact it means a very limited group of Finnish Christians. The borders of the true congregation are kept very clear.

Inside these borders lies salvation, outside there is only ’unbelief and confusion about matters of faith’. In fact, all outsiders are on the way to hell. There is no salvation outside the SRK.

The Kingdom of God upon earth

The SRK-Laestadianism sees itself as the empirical and historical successor of the apostles. They are convinced that they constitute the visible and concrete reality of the Kingdom of God upon earth. In their view, this role has in the course of history been offered to other groups and communities of believers in different parts of the world but they have all failed.

Within the SRK-Laestadianism the epithet ”revival movement” is resented because it is seen as demeaning.

This self-understanding of the SRK-Laestadianism has understandably caused problems in its relations with the Lutheran Church of Finland.

For instance, the SRK-Laestadians do not accept women pastors, whose number in the Lutheran Church is steadily growing, but then again, they do not regard any other pastors than their own as ’right’ although they might be legitimate.

They rarely attend regular services at the local parish churches, not because it is forbidden for them, but because they do not find the preaching and proclamation of Gospel there ’fruitful’ or useful.

However, they have not been interested in leaving the Church which they see as as important protector, and as long as they are not forced to leave the Church, they will stay.

On the other hand, the Lutheran church leadership has been reluctant to disturb their relations to the movement; even though the SRK-lestadianism quite clearly constitutes a church within a church because of its exclusivity, it has been considered a vital part of the wider church, especially in northern Finland.

Violence in the healing meetings

Keeping the border between the Kingdom of God and the outside world clear once again became a burning issue at the second half of the 1970s. The leadership of the SRK-Laestadianism which consisted mostly of lay preachers began to see the unity and purity of the Kingdom increasingly threatened by harmful outside influences and lax discipline inside. It became a necessity to root out these influences and those who kept disseminating them.

The way to achieve this was to organize so called public ’healing’ or ’pastoral care’ meetings. They were called by the local Associations of Peace but were very often attended by one or more members of the executive committee of the Central Committee (the SRK). The official organ of the Central Committee carried notices of these meetings. 

People accused each others and were manipulated to fight against each others 

In reality, these meetings meant interrogation and disciplining of those who were deemed to be led by a false spirit. Those accused had to step in front of the whole congregation where they had to listen to the charges made against them. The whole congregation, not just those acting as chairmen, could join in making accusations.

The accused then had the chance to repent and receive forgiveness. If they did or could not do this in the right way, and this often meant using very specific words and phrases, they could be expelled from the congregation and thus from the Kingdom of God.

These events were traumatic for many accused.

Many of them were old people who could not understand that they had done anything wrong. Many tried to repent immediately just to be spared further pain and humiliation but this was not possible because the leaders wanted to be certain that the accused really understood what they had done wrong. This could in some cases take hours. All kinds of things could be cause for reprimand.

“The False spirit”: greeting, television, books, singing in the choir,  hunting society, wrong political party…

Watching television or using contraception were considered particularly serious faults at this time. Other ’crimes’ included greeting non-believers, reading ’ecumenical’ journals or literature (i.e. any other religious literature than that published by the SRK), or voting for the wrong political party (e.g. any leftist party or the ideological competitor to the Centre Party which is the Laestadians’ party of choice).

Even singing in the local parish choir or being an active member in the hunting society could be reason enough to be called in front of the congregation. Precise minutes were always made of these meetings but they remain confidential. However, enough information has been provided by those who participated in the meetings for us to know how things were done.

Whole families were expelled out of ”the Kingdom of God”

Many people were deeply hurt and even traumatized by the oppressive methods used in these meetings.

For some people being first humiliated in front of other believers and finally thrown out of the Kingdom of God was so painful that they committed suicide. Almost always casualties included not just individuals but other members of the family and even other relatives. Whole families were expelled.

The meetings and purges raised an intense public discussion at the turn of the 1970s and 1980s, and probably due to the wide popular attention further meetings were soon halted.

The events of the late 1970s caused long-standing resentment and bitterness among those who felf personally wronged. Some of them became ex-members active in seeking justice for the falsely ”healed” and an apology from the leadership of the SRK-Laestadianism.

The new discussion emerged in the Internet

They were gradually joined by a younger generation many of whom wanted a relaxation of the strict lifestyle norms and a modernization of the movement. From the start of the new millennium, they joined forces especially at the Internet message boards and discussion forums where the healing meetings became a special focus at the start of 2006.

On 19 January 2006, at an Internet forum called Suomi24.fi a woman who gave her name as Paula E. demanded that the SRK should employ an independent university scholar to research the events around the healing meetings. After the work is completed, the results must be published and an open apology issued to all those who had suffered from the spiritual terror and mental anguish of the meetings. The apology must be published in the official organ of the SRK-Laestadianism, and in the leading national and regional newspapers. It should also be made known to the members of all Associations of Peace.

This demand would perhaps have remained unknown for the wider public but for the fact that the issue was picked up by the religious press.

[In fact, previously as early as in March 2000 the young Laestadian priest  Antti Pentikäinen with two colleagues, Matti Hyry and Jyrki Rauhala, launched public discussion on the state of Laestadian movement. They made suggestion to SRK for a public apology, in the interview published in Sana, the religious magazine.  Antti Pentikäinen was worried about people’s unfair treatment in the healing meetings and pointed out the responsibility of the Laestadian revival movement. He also emphasized womens rights and their problematic treatment in the congregation and wished progress for the gender equality in the future. The consequences towards the priests were expected. Some members of the executive committee of the Central Committee of SRK arranged a healing meeting for them. Thus, thereafter they stopped activities concerning the healing meetings. As a matter of fact, even before that outcome of the young Laestadian priests  there had been going on already for years the debate and writings in the media about the violence and  individual experiences in healing meetings.  – Editors’ note.]

Kotimaa gets the ball

The semi-official organ of the Lutheran Church, Kotimaa, interviewed the secretary-general of the SRK and also a prominent historian of Laestadianism who was a member of the movement himself. [Taneli Kylätasku: ”Hoitokokousten” kipu tuntuu yhä. Kotimaa 3.2.2006, p.4.]

The historian Dr Seppo Lohi’s judgement was that clear mistakes had been make in the course of holding the meetings and individuals had been wronged. It seems evident that only through the medium of Internet discussion forums and blogs has it become possible to effectively challenge and even pressure the SRK Laestadianism’s leadership.

Open criticism and discussion has not been tolerated within the movement’s ranks.

Conservative Laestadians do take part in online discussions but always anonymously. The reason for this probably is that they are afraid of being labelled and becoming subject to questioning by the elders of their congregation.

I would tentatively claim that there was a fairly clear period of intensification of internet debate not only concerning Laestadianism but also in the case of the small Roman Catholic Church in Finland, and also more generally in regard of religion, in 2005–2006. Whether this was a mere coincidence or whether it was because people had finally ’found’ this channel and had realized the possibilities of Internet to voice their dissatisfaction with the status quo, remains a matter for further study.

It would also be interesting to know whether there are similiar observations from other countries.

No need for an apology

When interviewed in 2006, Mr Aimo Hautamäki, the secretary-general of the SRK Laestadians denied that there was any need for an apology from the side of the SRK leadership.

In his view, the apology should be issued by those individuals who had been personally involved with the organising and carrying out of the actual meetings, as the Central Committee had not been responsible for the meetings.

However, it has been pointed out that members of the Central Committee took actively part in many of the meetings, especially when asked to help out as speakers and ’judges’.

Also, the main organ of the SRK-Laestadianism, the weekly Päivämies, carried notices of the meetings, making them thus very public and official-sounding.

In general, the view from today’s leadership of the SRK seems to be that the critics are either bitter outsiders and ex-members or young people who were not even born in the 1970s and thus not capable of having an informed view of the issues.

The present SRK leadership evidently want to detach themselves from and deny their responsibility for events 30 years in the past.

Background of the Case of the Finnish Lutheran Mission

The Finnish Lutheran Mission (the FLM) was established in 1967.  The FLM united like-minded people from different conservative groups and movements. In Finland, these circles have been called neo-pietistic to stress on the one hand their roots in the old German pietistic tradition, and on the other hand in reference to the newer influences they received from British and American Evangelicalism.

The FLM has also been called the ’Fifth Revival Movement’ to imply that it belongs to the same league with the four other, more traditional, revival movements.The FLM was to a large extent a protest movement. It protested against liberal tendencies in university theology,  especially the use of historicalcritical method in Bible studies, increasing ecumenical cooperation,  and general leftist radicalism of the 1960. The movement was conservative not only theologically but also politically and morally. 

An important part of the mode of operation of the FLM was active personal evangelisation. Every member was expected to regard it as their duty. Sometimes there were excesses, committed particularly by the younger followers in the early days of the movement, and many of those who had been targeted for evangelisation felt they were objects of psychological and spiritual harassment. The strict moral code also felt oppressive to many and became a reason for gradual alienation and eventually leaving the movement.

FLM  apology of 1999

In 1999, the FLM held its annual youth summer festival in the town of Hämeenlinna in southern Finland. The festival performance was followed by a prayer service during which a groupof Christians apologized for all spiritual violence they or their reference group might have been guilty of.

There was an apology for all Lutherans, for the parish of Hämeenlinna, for older Christians, for younger Christians, and for the FLM. Primus motor for the apology service was the youth Pastor Jussi Miettinen who said he got the idea from his own experiences of revivals in the Pacific area.

The FLM apology was made by the secretary-general of the movement, Pastor Timo Rämä. He felt he could ask forgiveness for the whole organisation as its leader and as someone who had been with it from the beginning.

With his apology he said he wanted to give an example of the proper apologizing and forgiving mentality that is needed in the Church where differing opinions should be tolerated and respected.  Later he also stressed that his aim was not to apologize for the whole existence and history of the movement, thus devaluing the movement’s accomplishments. The apology was made for ’undeniable mistakes’.

However, the nature of these mistakes was never put in detail. It seems there was some doubt whether an apology would undermine the FLM’s credibility.Rämä’s apology can also be seen as a move in the ongoing struggle between the conservatives and liberals within the Lutheran Church of Finland.

The FLM is steadfastly on the conservative side on issues such as women’s ordination and the blessing of same-sex couples. Rämä has characterized himself as a victim of ’religious oppression’. By this he evidently means that he and the FLM have been under heavy pressure to adapt to the official Church policy regarding female ordination.

Yet another issue that must be pointed out in the FLM case is that the secretarygeneral explained his apology in a newspaper column also with his own bad experiences of a wrong sort of manipulative charismatic Christianity which tries to cast people in the same mould. This complaint may reflect a larger development within evangelical Christianity of charismatical groups like Pentecostals gaining supporters from the ranks of more traditional evangelicals.

Conclusions

The obvious difference between the two cases was that the Finnish Lutheran Mission apologized unasked and the idea came from within the organization. The whole thing was in fact carefully planned to take place in a ceremonial fashion.

The SRK-Laestadians have not apologized even when asked repeatedly. There has been strong pressure from the outside, they have been pushed to do it, especially by exmembers.

However, there is strong resistance within Laestadianism to yield to these demands to apologise. In part this resistance arises from the movement’s selfidentity as the infallible Kingdom of God, in part from juridical arguments.

The FLM could choose the time and place for its apology. It could use an occasion which offered a natural context. They could be quite certain that their apology would be met with sympathy.

The FLM apology can also be seen in the context of internal Church struggle. Sometimes an apology can be used as a ’weapon’, or at least in order to bring the other side to shame; one can apologize for something that one actually sees as the other side’s fault. In this regard, there can be discerned a whiff of self-pity in secretary-general Rämä’s statements.

Outside models and inspirations can be found in both cases. Shortly before the demand aimed at the SRK was launched, the semi-official organ of the Finnish Lutheran Church, Kotimaa, apologized for supporting certain rightist movements and praising the Nazis’ coming to power in Germany in the period between the two World Wars. The newspaper asked forgiveness for thus oppressing the workers who were to a very large extent also members of the Church.

Another symbolic factor which may have had something to, at least unconsciously, with the timing of the FLM apology, was the approaching new millennium. It had been the reason for Pope John Paul II to launch his own series of papal mea culpas, but Jussi Miettinen, the primus motor behind the FLM’s action denied getting any sort of inspiration from the Pope.

It would perhaps been more surprising to hear that the FLM had emulated the Pope, given that one reason for the movement’s founding had been a deep prejudice towards the Roman Catholic Church.

It is certainly true that the Internet has given plenty of opportunities for all kinds of oppositionists and critics to voice their views uninhibitedly. In cases like the SRK-Laestadianism where the community itself does not encourage or tolerate criticism, an outside forum where criticism can be practised anonymously is almost the only viable channel through which to pursue change.

It is not probable that a public apology will be made by the SRK anytime soon, although recent sexual abuse charges against several Laestadian lay preachers have further darkened the public image of the movement and put more pressure on the SRK leadership to do something.”

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Author’s notification.

This study is based on printed sources such as journalistic reports, news stories, letters to the editor and memoirs, interviews, and internet message boards and discussion forums. Archival sources were not available. There is yet very little research on these matters.

Mikko Ketola

The original paper: Apologising for Past Errors: Two Finnish Religious Revival Movements and Their Different Strategies, University of Helsinki / University of London, Institute of Historical Research. The International Historical Congress, Amsterdam, 22-28 August 2010.)

(Abbreviation by permission of the author. The subtitles and abbreviation by the Freepathways blog editors.)

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Read more:

(Unfortunately, some of the texts are only in Finnish. To translate those articles, please try Google Translate)

Admata: Kotimaa-lehti hoitokokouksista 3.2.2006. Hakomaja discussion forum.

Johannes Alaranta: Kokousta pukkaa, “ollaan hänestä huolissaan”, porukalla.

Simo Alastalo: Tutkija: Vanhoillislestadiolaisen liikkeen pitäisi pyytää hoitokokouksia anteeksi. Kotimaa24 uutiset, 23.11.2010. (Published after this blog posting.)

… and forgive us: Lutherans Repent Anabaptist Persecution.  Lutheran World Information 6/2010.

Jason A. Edwards: Apologizing for the Past for a Better Future: Collective Apologies in the United States, Australia, and Canada. Southern Communication Journal, 75 (1),  January 2010 , 57–75.

Leo Hartvaara: Suden uhrit. Joensuu: Kirjavaaka 1984. (The novel describes healing meetings in a SRK-Laestadian congregation from the victims’ point of view.) 

Warren H. Hepokoski 2002: The Laestadian Movement: Background Writings and Testimonies. Rev.ed. Culpeper, Virginia, US.

Hoitokokous (lestadiolaisuus). Wikipedia. (N.B. references and a review on the research and discussion about the healing meetings.)

Vuokko Ilola: Hoitokokoukset pitää selvittää. Kotimaa 18.12.2008. (An open letter and a petition to the management of SRK for healing meetings’ investigation.)

Hannu Karpo: Syntisin silmin. Tv-dokumentti, YLE 3.10.1981. (A report about the healing meetings in the Northern Finland by a renowned Finnish journalist.)

Mauri Kinnunen:  Tämä vuosituhat haastaa lestadiolaisuuden: Suomen suurimman herätysliikkeen pitäisi pystyä avoimesti kohtaamaan menneisyytensä kipupisteet. Kaleva 1.10.2006. (One of the first public petitions to the management of SRK written by a member of the laestadioan movement; the author is PhD and a renowed researcher of the Laestadiasim.)

Korpijaakko: Anteeksipyyntö 2010 – historiallinen sovinto.

Taneli Kylätasku: ”Hoitokokousten” kipu tuntuu yhä. Kotimaa 3.2.2006. (A remarkable report which broadened further the discussion originated in the net.)

Laestadian-ism : a blog of the research project on political laestadianism funded by the Academy of Finland, 2010-2012, at the University of Lapland. One part of the research will focus on the impacts of healing meetings.

Topi Linjama: Vanhoillislestadiolaisuuden hiljaisuus ja pelko

Tuomas Lohi: Haapajärven lestadiolaisuuden vaiheet 1863-1999. Oulun yliopisto. Pro gradu -tutkielma.

Matkalippu helvettiin: vanhoillislestadiolaisuden piiristä erotetut kertovat. Tv-dokumentti, YLE 31.10.1985.

Pekka Mikkola: Anteeksipyyntö on vaikeaa hengellisille yhteisöillekin. Kaleva 12.7.2006.

Paula E.: SRK:n anteeksipyyntö. Suomi24 Keskustelua vanhoillislestadiolaisuudesta, 19.1.2006.

Tuomas Peltomäki: Järkyttävintä toimittajan uralla: kollektiivin pelko mursi perhesiteet. Helsingin Sanomat 28.7.2007. (An interview of a journalist Hannu Karpo.)

Puhujat 2008: “1970-luku oli rakkauden ja anteeksiantamisen aikaa” (The SRK-laestadian preachers’ meeting 2008: ”The 1970s was time of love and forgiveness”.)

Rhyming Blue: Living as my true self – leaving the Conservative Laestadian one true faith’s community

Jussi Rytkönen: Hoitokokouksista ei anteeksipyyntöä. Kotimaa 2.7.2006. (An interview of secretary-general of the SRK Aimo Hautamäki.)

Kari Salonen – Kimmo Kääriäinen – Kati Niemelä: Kirkko uudelle vuosituhannelle – Suomen evankelis-luterilainen kirkko vuosina 1996-1999. (Information on the collective apologizing of FLM 1999.)

Amartya Sen: Identity and Violence (a review in The Guardian)

SRK:n tie 1960-luvulta hoitokokouksiin

Marjo Valtavaara: Conservative Laestadians’ lifestyle debate boils over onto the Internet. Helsingin Sanomat 23.10.2007.

Kahdeksan hoitokokousvuotta Haapaveden rauhanyhdistyksellä.

1 kommentti

Kategoria(t): 1900-luku, 1970-luku, 1980-luku, 1990-luku, 2000-luku, Conservative Laestadianism, erehtymättömyys, eristäminen, erottaminen yhteisöstä, evankelis-luterilainen kirkko, forbidden things, hajaannukset, hengellinen väkivalta, historia, hoitokokoukset, ihmisarvo, in English, johtajat, johtokunta, kannanotot, keskustelu, keskusteluilmapiiri, kirkko, kontrollointi, Kotimaa, lähihistoria, manipulointi, mennoniitit, mielenterveys, nettikeskustelu, normit, norms, omatunto, opilliset kysymykset, painostaminen, pelastus, pelko, pelot, politiikka, puhujat, Raamatun tulkinta, rauhanyhdistys, retoriikka, Rippi, sananjulistajat, secession, seurakuntaoppi, sielunhoito, SRK ry., SRK:n johtokunta, syrjintä, syyllistäminen, totteleminen, tuomitseminen, tutkimus, uhkailu, ulossulkeminen, uskon perusteet, vallankäyttö, vastuullisuus, väkivalta

Leaving LLC made me who I am


After I left the Laestadian Lutheran Church (LLC), I came into feel and know that there was such a thing as a personal relationship with God, writes ”Finally Free” in her story at the former Laestadians’ forum Postlaestadianrevival. She describes her personal emotions and experiences which she had to met after leaving the church where she had been a member ever since her childhood and where her parents, family and friends still continues to stay.

It is interesting to notice how alike experiences people seem to meet in their leaving processes related to any branch of Laestadian revival movement, or any other fundamentalist and strict group. It is nearly unbelievable that even the details e.g. the inequality of social interplay and structures in the local congre-gation, experiences of shunning and being intimidated are precisely similar in Finland and in the US. Also aloof parent-child relationships and tendency to leave home very young in early adulthood in the Laestadian families are identified on both sides of the Atlantic.

Countless stories have demonstrated that leaving the Laestadian faith and congregation is a difficult and traumatic experience. It means often  that you have to rebuild yourself  and to recognise your inner self and identity totally again. Unfortunately, you will often get disowned from the family. In addition to the spiritual and mental difficulties some people have even lost also their job in case they worked for a company owned by Laestadians.

The exit is best done if you are well prepared (N.B. look at the steps!) and with a support system outside of the church, as here ”Finally Free” has told on her survival.  There have been many such exits where e.g. a young family or a single person has left the church, found connection with other ex-laestadians and got new and  safe direction with peer support in the life.

The LLC is one of the eight branches of Laestadian revival movement in America. It is a sister organisation of SRK (Suomen rauhanyhdistysten keskusyhdistys ry.) in Finland. They are, as in Finland called, Conservative Laestadian organisations with many dozens of  local congregations.

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I never fit in with the ”cool” kids… I tried very hard to fit in from about ages 12-15, but realized that I’d never fit in. I found a few friends that also didn’t fit in, and found friends from school that were not in the LLC. The first time I ”dropped out” was at age 16. My parents caught me sneaking out to a party, and I told them that I didn’t believe. Oh, and they also found my stash of ”bad” cd’s..but I managed to get them back .

A few months after that, I ”repented”, but only because it was too hard to live at home with my family as an ”unbeliever”. My parents didn’t trust me because of it, so I just faked it.

I knew that once I graduated high school and could move out, that I would leave the LLC behind for good.

It was the rules that got me. I didn’t understand why it was wrong to watch TV/movies, wear make up, listen to ”wordly” music..etc. I didn’t think about what they believed, but didn’t know any other way since that was all I’d ever been taught.

When I turned 18, I moved out from my parents, and in with a friend. It was hard. I didn’t have a very good relationship with my family, and even though I didn’t move far, we barely saw eachother, and didn’t talk much. It was so awkward whenever I was visiting my family. I partied alot, and tried not to think about anything to do with religion.

I met a wonderful man a few months after I moved out. About a year later, when we were planning our wedding, we started the marriage prep. course that was required by the minister marrying us. He was so kind, and accepting! Of course he didn’t like that we were living together, but he didn’t judge us for it. He treated us the same as he would treat anyone else.

It was very eye opening to hear him explain the different parts of the Bible we were studying. I had never heard it explained like that! That was when I realized that there is so much more out here than what the LLC teaches.

I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a personal relationship with God. When the minister talked about our personal walks with God, he was probably surprised when I said I had no idea what he was talking about!

Since then I have learned alot from reading posts on this site , and the extoots site , and also of reading the Bible. My husband and I have not found a church that we attend regularly, but I know that God has not forgotten about me just because I am not a Laestadian.

I used to wish that I would’ve been raised in a non-Laestadian family. I thought that it would have been so much easier. Now, I am happy for what I have been through. It made me who I am today, and leaving has made me a stronger person.

Now, my relationship with my parents and siblings is pretty good. (Having a child helped!) We visit there, and they even come to our house, and its not awkward anymore.

Author: ”Finally Free” (at the forum Postlaestadianrevival).

*    *    *

Laestadian Lutheran Church, one of the 19 branches in the Laestadian revival movement

The Laestadian Lutheran Church is a Christian revival movement, one of the 19 Laestadian groups. There exist eight Laestadian branches nowadays in North America where this in Swedish Lapland born revival movement arrived with Finnish immigrants.  The total amount of all Laestadians  in North America is  approximately 29 000–32 000. The number of Laestadians worldwide is estimated to be between 144,000 and 219,000, most of them in Finland (80,000 – 110,000).

LLC is working in the US and Canada.  From 1973, after one of the many disagreements and conflicts among the Laestadians,  the organisation was name the Association of American Laestadian Congregations (AALC), before the association changed its name in 1994 to Laestadian Lutheran Church. As of 2009, the church has 29 member congregations in the United States and Canada, with highest concentrations of members in Minnesota, Washington, Arizona, Michigan in the United States and in Saskatchewan, Canada. LCC has 68 preachers, nearly all of them lay preachers.

The Church teaches that it is a sin to watch movies, listen to rhythmic music, dance, wear makeup, and partake in other activities that are considered worldly. Very crucial elements in the Laestadian dogmatics are norms regarding sexuality. The birth control, pre-marital sex and same-sex relationships are forbidden. The Laestadian revival movement is split between several different branches whose attitudes towards birth control, television, music, and other “worldly” issues vary to some extent.

In general, Laestadians attach a high value to family life and work, but are often less concerned about education. The movement is strongly dominated by men, and women are not allowed to preach nor having equal opportunities to become a supervisor in the congregation.  There are many bans or “sins” which are controlling especially the behavior and life of women. Women are idolised only as mothers. The argument to the ban of birth control is that children are regarded as a gift from God.

In the past time the Laestadian women married as very young, and some do still today. However, this is going to change because of the higher education of women (at least in Finland). Many laestadian women do not get married even after they turn 30 because they realise that they would have to get into the role of motherhood immediately. They don’t want to abandon their careers and yet, they don’t wish to leave the Church either, because their friends and family belong to it.

However, their chances to find a partner are usually gone because there in the congregation are not anymore left suitable men left. It is not allowed marrying outside of the Laestadian community (endogamy). As a result of this exclusive norm there are unusual big amount of women living as involuntary singles.

The important aspect about the community and beliefs that binds them together is that the Laestadian believer needs some other Laestadian one to forgive the sins. Based on their ”Doctrine of the Keys,” they believe that  (LLC-)Laestadians only  have the power to forgive sins and that without hearing the ”word of reconciliation” in the preaching of the LLC church or by way of personal absolution by some Laestadian person a sinner cannot be forgiven and saved. Most of the other Laestadian branches teach the exactly same belief.

In Northern Europe, the association’s sister organizations of LLC are the Conservative LaestadiansCentral Association of the Finnish Associations of Peace (Suomen rauhanyhdistysten keskusyhdistys) in Finland, the Sveriges fridsföreningarnas centralorganisation in Sweden, and the Estonian Lutheran Association of Peace (Eesti Luterlik Rahuühendus).

*    *     *

Please be free to give your comments here or by e-mail: verkosto@luukku.com.

Read more:

I left the Conservative Laestadian movement (in ten years)

Laestadianism in America

Living as my true self – leaving the Conservative Laestadian one true faith’s community

Conservative Laestadians in Oulu

Laestadian-ism – political theology and civil religion: a blog of researchers focusing on Laestadianism, politics and society.

How to Leave the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church (Useful guidelines for everyone who consider to leave Conservative Laestadian community, too. The model has been a starting point in planning  those steps in Finnish.)

Comparing the One True Churches

Kuka ja mikä minä oikeasti olen? (Dr. Saara Tuomaala on identity etc., in Finnish)

Etniset vanhoillislestadiolaiset (The Ethnic Laestadians: a concept and definitions, in Finnish)

Sami Ojala:  Uuras Saarnivaara Pohjois-Amerikan lestadiolaisuuden historiankirjoittajana. Pro gradu -tutkielman esittely.

Valmisteilla väitöstutkimus Pohjois-Amerikan lestadiolaisuudesta 1880–1920-luvuilla. Päivämies 13.9.2014.

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Kategoria(t): ahdistus, avainten valta, avioliitto, ban of television, bans, concept of sin, Conservative Laestadianism, forbidden things, get rid of, identity, in English, secession, seurakuntaoppi, SRK ry., sukupuolijärjestelmä, syntien anteeksiantamus, syrjintä, syyllistäminen, tuomitseminen, uskon jättäminen, vallankäyttö

Political dimensions of the Laestadianism in the research focus funded by Academy of Finland


The Academy of Finland’s Research Council for Culture and Society has recently decided to fund a new research project on Laestadianism from the political point of view:  Laestadian-ism: Political Theology and Civil Religion in Secularizing Finland. The project  will be managed  by Dr. Mika Luoma-aho (Assistant Professor of International Relations, University of Lapland), to the tune of 375,000 Euro over the period 1 January 2010 through 31 December 2012.

The research project is welcome and important  in this global situation. We need more understanding about both national and international religional movements, especially about their societal and political roles and impacts.  It is expectable that the results of the project will be appreciated by the researcers and the field of the practice in the society, especially in Finland where the Laestadian movement is a largest, powerful separatistic movement in the The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.

Project description: ”Laestadianism is a form of fundamentalism”

”Laestadianism is the largest revivalist movement within the Finnish Lutheran Church. Our project aims to provide current, empirically oriented and theoretically innovative analysis of the political aspects of laestadianism.

Laestadianism is a form of ’fundamentalism’ that poses no challenge to other Christian denominations or religions, just as it does not in any way aim to subvert the establishment. Quite the contrary: Laestadians have long practiced their religion within the confines of the national Lutheran Church; they have traditionally taken an active role in civil society; and they continue to organize themselves politically through the Finnish parliamentary system. What we see in laestadianism is Finland’s Christian Right: it embodies and represents much of what goes under Christian reaction in this country.

Laestadianism is not a political movement in the conventional sense of the term: it does not have its own party or a political platform. Our project will make the political aspects of laestadianism discernible by approaching it from two conceptual angles.

We will (I) politicize the history of Laestadian theology and (II) make explicit the politics of practicing the Laestadian religion today. This we will do (i) by approaching laestadianism as a tradition of political theology; and (ii) by framing laestadianism as a form of civil religion.

Our hypothesis is that among the varieties and intensities of civil religion we may identify in Finnish politics today, laestadianism embodies its purest theological expression and most explicit political articulation.

Laestadianism is important, because there are regions in this country, parties in its political system, where the role of the movement is noteworthy. It is also an interesting movement in itself, because while secular political life sees religion often in personal terms, there is a politically active and outspoken movement in this secular age that believes otherwise. The Laestadians believe that the state has a very specific theological meaning: it is government established by God and in its proper functioning his rule and reign are in stake [sic]. There is a sharp contrast between the world-views of laestadianism and that of the secular majority of ’Finns’.

There is a desperate need for political research on the Laestadian movement. Our project will provide up-to-date information on its political history, religiously structured view of social life, and political significance in Finland today. This information is needed to overcome prejudice in society. Furthermore: we will use this information ourselves in contributing to current debates on the relationship between organized religion and the institution of the secular, national state.

The project already has a blog, ”Laestadian-ism”:

http://laestadian-ism.blogspot.com/

According to it, Laestadianism is ”based on the heritage of a Sami botanist and preacher Lars Levi Laestadius” (1800-1861). ”In our research we combine current theoretical literatures on political theology and civil religion with an empirically oriented approach to the movement in Finnish society. This weblog will be updated with current information on project events and public relations, commentary and analysis on issues touching the laestadian movement in Finland and elsewhere, as well as debates on political theology and civil religion in general.”

About the research design in English:

Finland’s Christian Right  (Mika Luoma-aho)

In Finnish:

Lestadionismi: poliittinen teologia ja kansalaisuskonto maallistuvassa Suomessa

Read more:

Lestadiolaisuuden poliittinen valta tutkimuksen kohteeksi

Saarenpäälle ja Luoma-aholle Suomen Akatemian tutkimusrahoitus (The press release of the University of Lapland, 7.10.2009.)

Aini Linjakumpu: Lestadiolaisuus suomalaisena ääriliikkeenä. Kaltio 2000:1. (Laestadianism as the Extremist Movement in Finland.)

Lestadiolaisuus ja politiikka. Lestadiolaisuus.info. (Short summaries of some articles collected in the Finnish general and Laestadian media)

Johanna Kouva: Laestadianism in Finland. University of Tampere.

Mika-Luoma-aho  in the website of the University of Lapland.

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Kategoria(t): 2000-luku, evankelis-luterilainen kirkko, fundamentalismi, historia, in English, kirkko, laestadianism, luterilaisuus, norms, pietismi, politiikka, tutkimus

I left the Conservative Laestadian movement (in ten years)


KiellettyDVDOpas-S

Leaving the strict confines of Conservative Laestadianism can be a shock. 

A young woman who has abandoned her faith speaks of confusion at what happens next.

*    *    *

I can remember exactly how I felt on that day. The weather was very beautiful in Helsinki. I walked on the sunny street with my head held high, and smiled at people walking by. I felt incomprehensible joy.
     

It was me walking there, and nobody else. I was 25 years old, and it was my issue and nobody else’s what I was doing with my life and what I was thinking. The powerful feeling of liberation came from something that was very small, but which had great symbolic significance for me. I was wearing makeup for the first time in my life.
     
The feeling came back to me when I saw Kielletty hedelmä (“Forbidden Fruit”), a film by Dome Karukoski, which tells about the departure of two young girls from the Conservative Laestadian movement.
     
My own departure lasted ten years.
     
I grew up in a Conservative Laestadian family in North Ostrobothnia (Finland). Our everyday lives did not actually differ much from those of our non-Laestadian neighbours, except that we had no television, we did not run our lawn mowers in Sunday, and on Sundays we attended services with the other Laestadians of the village.
At the services speakers read the Bible and interpreted it. The sermon usually took an hour. Then we sang hymns and Songs of Zion. After the singing we got refreshments.
     
The lectures repeated that the Kingdom of God is a good and safe place to be. The “Kingdom of God” is a term with which the Laestadian community calls itself. The outside world is corrupt and insecure. We were warned not to establish very close relations with “people of the world” because they might jeopardise our faith. Losing one’s faith was the worst thing that could happen, because then you would go to hell.
     
Contrary to what some other children said, I never took hell very seriously. However, I did feel that losing the faith would be very sad. On the other hand, there were many advantages to living as a person with faith, the biggest of which was that you got to go to heaven.
     
It was a good idea to preserve the faith by staying away from alcohol, dancing, movies, competitive sport, makeup, hair dye, sex, and so on. There was no official list of things that were not appropriate for a person of faith, but I gradually learned from what adults were saying what the things were that I was expected to stay away from.
     
Abstinence was not especially difficult, when there were many people around you living the same way. I did not actually refuse anything, I simply stayed far away from things that did not apply to me. In retrospect I thought that the Laestadians largely visualised their faith on the basis of what they do not do.
     
At school I would have liked to go to dance lessons, but the physical education teacher guided the Laestadian girls to go for a walk. I saw this as self-evident.
     
The third and most important way to protect the faith was not use one’s own sense of reason. We were told that reason can take our faith away. If one’s reason or experiences conflict with faith, one needed to become humble and to see the blessings of the common line of the congregation.
     
At about the age of 15 I noticed that I had started to think differently from what had been taught.
     
For instance, I began to wonder why Laestadians would go to heaven and others would go to hell. I also wondered why I should not enjoy the music of Aretha Franklin. It seemed unlikely that God would appreciate only the classics.
     
However, it was very important for me not to hurt the feelings of any other Laestadian with my views. It was emphasised at services that those who violate the unity of the congregation act against God. This is why I shared my thoughts with very few people.
     
I tried to clarify to myself what the Laestadian way of life was based on. Other practices, such as total abstinence from alcohol, had emerged in the late 19th century. Negative views toward television and popular music, for instance, had come up in the 1950s and 1960s. The linkage of these practices with God, faith, and morality began to feel inconceivable to me. I wanted to distinguish between cultural habits and faith.
     
For me, faith meant Christian thoughts of how a person can experience redemption through faith. I thought that I could be a Laestadian as long as I believed that. Even in sermons it was emphasised that a desire for faith was enough.
     
At the same time I was quite knowledgeable that on the practical level it was not possible to separate practice from faith. If I were to go to a service with makeup on, my friends would be shocked. The makeup would communicate to the others that I am no longer a Laestadian.
     
As I did not want to leave the Laestadian community, I committed to observing practices that I felt were without foundation.
     
I was headed for a great conflict.
     
No open discussion had been held within the movement about the true significance of cultural practices, and it is not happening even now. Privately, Laestadians have many opinions about lifestyles, but according to the public Laestadian line, things like not having a television is a “fruit of the spirit”, or a sign that a person is a believer of the right kind.
     
It was emphasised at services that it is not about rules, but rather the fact that a Laestadian wants to operate in a certain way. I recall how I preferred to speak about desires, rather than rules. I was pained to read newspaper articles about things that Laestadians “were not allowed to do”. The question was about what I wanted to do or to choose!
     
But whose desire was it really all about?
     
I was not asked what I wanted, or what I felt was important. For instance, the negative stance on birth control was taken in the late 1960s at a meeting of preachers, where only men were present.
     
I knew already at the age of 13 that I did not want to be the mother of a big family. It was not until I was over the age of 20 that I said out loud that I cannot stand the idea of a big family. My friends answered that “you can’t know in advance what it will be like”.
     
I was supposed to simply trust that God would give me exactly the right number of children, even if I did not use birth control.
     
I knew that my mind could not handle such an experiment. I simply did not want to become pregnant reluctantly. My thoughts did not find resonance, because they resounded with the voice of reason, not that of faith.
     
Some felt that faith is that people are encouraged to push their reason aside in big matters. For me rejecting reason would have been an abandonment of my own psyche.
     
I was not ready to bend at all in the birth control question, or to hide my opinions. The security of the Laestadian community began to turn into insecurity.
     
At the age of 25 I decided to leave the community. it was the most honest and most sustainable solution.
     
However, the most difficult days were still ahead. Leaving Laestadianism takes place by telling about it to one’s family and friends. I had the words of the father of my friend in my mind: “For one’s own child to leave the faith is worse than the child’s death.”
     
I could not cause such great sorrow to people close to me without going into a state of protective shock. Emotionally numb, I told my family and my friends: “I no longer have the faith.”
     
I will never forget those moments. I remember the expressions on the people’s faces, the silence, the first words.
     
My decision briefly shook the basic sense of security of people close to me. A few of them were also in shock.
     
It is a few years since the event, and I have good relations with my family. My decision nevertheless raises such deep emotions in my family that I cannot write about it under my own name. I also want to protect my family from the talk that the publication of this article will raise in the Laestadian community.
     
Leaving a religious movement is often described as a liberation from stressful rules. That is certainly the case to some degree. I was liberated from representing people other than myself. I was able to go to an Alko to buy a bottle of rum for a cake, and I didn’t have to explain to other Laestadians why I was doing it.
     
I was also able to think freely whether or not I believe in God, and if so, what kind of a God I believe in.
     
The film Kielletty hedelmä describes well how liberation is not merely a positive experience.
     
Instead of liberation I mainly experienced confusion. When nobody was defining my limits on my behalf, then where are those limits, and do they exist at all. This phase included some comical excesses.
     
I took full advantage of being able to have a different opinion about things. I might tell my colleague at work that her idea was “complete crap”. At times I would hurt people, and at other times amuse them by being rude and blunt.
     
In many situations I felt like an outsider. Maria, one of the main characters of Kielletty hedelmä, orders her first drink in a bar, saying “Two … something with alcohol in it”. The scene is as if it were straight from my life. I still have to concentrate in a bar to remember what kinds of drinks actually exist.
     
Maria, the more reckless of the girls in the film, is eager to break through the boundaries set up by Laestadianism (concerning alcohol, makeup, sex, dance) but finally, in the grip of great emotion, she wants to reform.
     
The more cautious Raakel observes Maria’s experiments from a distance. Raakel is like I am. Like Raakel, I first went through disengagement from Laestadianism in my mind. I lost my faith in the ways of thinking that maintained the boundaries.
     
I have many Laestadian friends who have thought the same thoughts that I did, but who do not want to leave the community. For some of them, the mystery of the faith is important, and for others, it is the sense of community. Some, for their part, say that they are there out of force of habit, or because they do not want to disappoint their parents. These are all understandable reasons.
     
I also know one person who claims to be part of the “leftist wing of Laestadianism”, women who define themselves as “Laestadian feminists”, and even one “Conservative Laestadian atheist”.
     
The subcultures are not seen in public. The old men who speak in the name of the revival movement, on the other hand, appear to be blissfully ignorant of the diversity that exists inside Laestadianism. For that reason, they can give statements leaning on sharp polarisations, and claim that the Laestadian community is a a unified group of people who think alike.
     
Kielletty hedelmä depicts the unravelling of a world picture focussing on duality. Maria urges Raakel to drink alcohol, saying “you have to understand what all of this is”.
     
When Raakel asks what it all is, Maria says “Nothing, Just ordinary!”
     
According to Conservative Laestadian doctrine, Maria has lost the ability to recognise what is sin.
     
Recognising the ordinary was a relief for me. The Laestadian world was not inherently good, and the rest of the world was not inherently evil. It was also not the case that the Laestadian world would have been insignificant, and that life outside would have been exciting to the point of intoxication.
     
There is just one world common to us all. Some things are good, and some things are bad. Most of them are somewhere in between.
     
*     *      *
Author: Anna-Stina Nykänen, Helsingin Sanomat.
First published in Finnish; in print 22.3.2009. (Exceptionally, this article was published anonymously in Finnish.)
Comments welcome, please contact the Freepathways network: verkosto@luukku.com, or you can also write your comment in the blog.
Artikkeli julkaistiin alkuaan Helsingin Sanomien sunnuntainumerossa 22.3.2009, suomenkielisen tekstin löydät täältä.
 
Read more:
 
 
 
Leanne Waldal: How does “sweetie” become shunned? (On ostracism after leaving Leastadian church; also interesting comments)
Bible_Warning PIEN

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Kategoria(t): concept of sin, Conservative Laestadianism, forbidden things, get rid of, Helsingin Sanomat, identiteetti, identity, in English, irrottautuminen yhteisöstä, laestadian, laestadianism, norms, secession, sin